The Science of Tears

Since you’ve been gone, I’ve been doing a lot of crying.

And then I got to thinking about tears.

Apparently, there are three categories of tears. According to Wikipedia, these are:

1 – Basal tears. In healthy mammalian eyes, the cornea is continually kept wet and nourished by basal tears. They lubricate the eye, and help to keep it clear of dust.

2 – Reflex tears. The second type of tears results from irritation of the eye by foreign particles, or from the presence of irritant substances. It can also occur with bright light and hot or peppery stimuli to the tongue and mouth. It is also linked with vomiting, coughing and yawning. These reflex tears attempt to wash out irritants that may have come into contact with the eye.

3 – Psychic tears. The third category, in general, referred to as crying or weeping, is increased tearing due to strong emotional stress, pleasure, anger, suffering, mourning, or physical pain. Interestingly, these tears are also very closely linked to the limbic system, because this system is involved in the production of basic emotional drives, such as anger and fear. Or to put it plainly – survival. I’m no neuroscientist, but I think one reason we cry psychic tears when we are in emotional pain is that we feel like we are dying inside, and therefore, our limbic system kicks in and starts shouting that our survival is in doubt. It’s fascinating, isn’t it. Way beyond my ken, I’m afraid. But a very small corner of my understanding really does get basic principle of how the limbic system works. And mine has certainly had good reason to be in overdrive.

Tears are good for you. The first two categories of tears serve to help to maintain healthy eyes. Some people have trouble producing tears and end up having to buy them over the counter in small expensive bottles. I don’t seem to have that problem. In fact, I can produce so many, I could probably bottle them myself, stick a fancy label on them, and make a fortune. But maybe that project is for another day.

As for the third category, I wonder whether these tears are also designed to help to cleanse us from the pain we are experiencing, whether that be emotional or physical. Apparently, emotional tears contain hormones that act as a natural painkiller, which goes some way to explaining why people can feel better after a good cry.

I wish I could feel better. I’m not sure I’m getting enough of those feel better hormones. Oh yes, I think I have all sorts of other hormones in super abundance. Hormones I could really do with settling down and leaving me alone. But the ones that might help? I think they might be having some sort of holiday, because nothing’s helping. Nothing. There is only wretchedness. And while I can look to the future and see all sorts of things to keep me busy, make me smile and even offer short term happiness – everything is blanketed in a thick layer of grief. And tears.

Stay gold.

Broken

Since you’ve been gone, there have been a lot of empty hours.

It’s funny how a person can be busy – have lots to think about and be occupied by – but still have time to spend every minute of every day feeling lonely and lost. It’s like a massive contradiction, an oxymoron of epic proportions. And if you ask me, it’s kinda unfair. There should be some kind of respite, right? There should be something to do, or somewhere to go, that will mean the pain will stop for a while. But there’s just nowhere to hide.

I miss you with everything that makes me the person I am. The good person and the bad person. I miss you with every beat of my heart and every breath that I take. I miss you in my private moments, and in the midst of my public life. One day, perhaps in a hundred years or so, I’ll stop missing you. But in the meantime…

My feelings are broken
And it hurts
Just like I always knew it would
The shards are in splinters in a place just out of reach
So that I can’t pick them up
And nurse them back to health
They just lay there
Taunting me with their jagged edges
And jaded misery

My feelings are broken
And it hurts
Just like I always knew it would
And each breath that I take is like glass mixed with pins in my throat
So that living is painful
And each step a mountain
Hard to master
Making the oxygen harder to come by
A waking misery

My feelings are broken
And it hurts
Just like I always knew it would
There’s a huge leaden weight inside my chest that pulls me down
Laying burden upon burden
Keeping me pinned under
Stifling all hope
Reminding me that the fault is all mine
A constant misery

 

Lest We Forget

Since you’ve been gone, I, like so many others around the world, have been remembering 100 years of the armistice that ended the Great War.

I have been very fortunate to live a life of freedom and peace. It is impossible for me to comprehend the true horrors of war. The fact that I am able to make both of those statements is because of the sacrifice of so many brave men and women – not only in the First World War, but also in the Second. And not only in those two conflicts, either. Amazingly, despite the danger, implied and real, of the profession they choose, men and women still sign up for our armed forces. I don’t particularly care whether or not it’s politically correct to say so, but I for one am grateful that there are still people who are willing to put their lives on the line for my sake.

No one wants war. Well, not unless you count the despotic and tyrannical regimes who didn’t – and never will – get the peace memo. Because that’s the point. Much as I would love it if all disagreements could be resolved over a cup of tea and a digestive biscuit, we have to accept that not everyone is in the business of minding their own business. Some people still want to impose their will and extend their borders. And they don’t care how they do that. Or how many people they harm in the process.

We still need our armed forces and we still need the brave personnel required to keep them – and potentially us – alive. And we still need to spend at least one day a year reflecting on the sacrifices that have been made on our behalf.

Not everyone has to agree with me. We’re all allowed differing opinions and the beauty of living in our free society is that we are able to voice them. The growing number of people who do not advocate the promotion of wearing a poppy (hello Cambridge University) are quite at liberty to express that view and are certainly not compelled to wear one against their will. Guess what. We have the very people we are remembering today to thank for that freedom.

Wearing a poppy and/ or commemorating Armistice Day does not glorify war. Quite the reverse. It is a sobering reflection on the horrors of the reality of war, and should help us to continue to work hard to avoid it.

Today, I am honoured to remember a grandfather I never met and a father with whom I didn’t have nearly enough time. I am proud that both of them served their country – in wartime, and in peace.

At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them.

There It Was – Gone

Since you’ve been gone, today has been so empty.

Everywhere I look, I expect to see her, curled up in the corner, or sitting with her ears pricked up as she watches the squirrels in the garden. No more do I have to step over her as I go to draw the curtains, or have to ignore her pleading eyes as she watches me eat.

I didn’t have to go out in the rain today, or undertake the wet dog challenge upon returning home. I didn’t see her lopsided smile, tongue lolling out of her mouth, as she bounds in from the garden and gallops, literally horse-like, to the kitchen for a long drink.

A submissive underbelly was not presented to me for stroking. Nor was there a persistent nuzzle against my hand, requesting – no, demanding – to be loved.

There’s no comforting figure asleep on the floor beside my bed, and the gentle sound of her dog tag tinkling against her collar as she shakes herself – that’s gone too.

I can’t stop thinking about where she is and what she’s doing, and can only hope that she doesn’t feel as desolate as me. I hope she finds a wonderful owner soon. One who deserves her. Not me. Not a failure.

None of these feelings are new to me. This is just another loss adjustment that I will have to make. One day something is there, something I love and in which I find much pleasure and fulfilment. And the next, it is gone. Perhaps there is a lesson in all of this. A truth that I must learn. But for now, all I know for certain is that I miss, with a great, deep, yearning ache, how it used to be, and I mourn for what once was.

Reality Bites

Since you’ve been gone, I’ve had one of the worst weeks of my life.

And considering how many bad weeks I’ve had over the years, that’s really saying something.

Accepting that I not only don’t come first, or second, or third… that in fact, not only do I not get a place on the podium, I’m not even in the race – that was really hard. But I guess I finally did it. And in the spirit of the theme of running, knowing that I’m not IN the running has helped me to create some distance. It stings. Not in the same way as muscle cramp or physical over-exertion. Actually, that would almost be easier, because that kind of pain lessens over time. I don’t think this burning sensation will stop, no matter how many warming down exercises I try. Or how much I sit in a comfortable chair. Still, I guess it’s not a totally bad thing. It will act as a reminder of how stupid I have been – and indeed, can be – and guard against me being an idiot again. Well. One can hope.

Coinciding with this epiphany, in the vindictive way that these things happen, you know that ‘kicking you while you’re down’ way of the universe, a series of events led to having to lose Milly.

She has always been difficult around other dogs. Over the time we have had her, we have increasingly had to keep her away from other dogs, avoiding them on walks and in the park. Despite trawling the internet for ideas and paying a dog trainer for help, we could not get beyond the almost workable arrangement where we walked her in certain places only and never too far from home. This was never ideal. She is a big dog who needed more than she was getting. However, she was also content with us. And so sweet natured. And we loved her.

There were a couple of close calls. I was bitten on a couple of occasions. Not because she was aggressive towards me. I was just in the unhappy position of being between her and the dog she wanted to ‘talk to’. We did our best. We were as vigilant as we could be. We thought we were doing OK.

But on Tuesday morning, she escaped from the garden and ran across the street to attack another dog. The dog’s owner intervened and was bitten on his hand. I can’t tell you how devastated I am for the animal and his owner. I feel so bad, so guilty, that this happened to them. The trip to the vet concluded superficial injuries. The trip to a walk-in clinic found a few puncture wounds to the man’s hand, one of them painfully deep. In one sense, it was a blessing that it wasn’t worse. Both of them will recover with no lasting ill effects. (Although I’m sure the trauma of what they went through will never be forgotten, and leaves me feeling sick at the thought of what their memories will never let them forget). But the risk of the same thing happening again, with potentially much worse consequences… I couldn’t live with myself if that happened.

There was no alternative but to take Milly back to the rescue centre. The people there will work with her and find a home where there are experienced dog handlers – who will know how best to move her forward and give her the home that she deserves. We were not the right family for her. It was a horrible decision to take. But there really was no alternative.

I took her back to the dogs home this afternoon. It was one of the most heartbreaking things I have ever done. She leapt out of the back of the car, bright eyed and bushy tailed, excited at the prospect of a walk in the countryside. I passed her lead to one of the rescue centre staff and she began to gently lead her away. At first she went willingly. Then she realised I was not following, so she turned around and walked back towards me. I dropped to my knees and she pushed her nose into my hand, leaning into me. Tears poured down my face as I said goodbye. I swear she knew something was wrong and stuck close to me as I hugged her. I think she was actually trying to comfort me. To tell me that whatever it was, it was ok. We’d go for a walk and it would all be alright again. I stood up and walked alongside her as she was taken to the kennel, but there came a point where I had to stop and watch her go.

It’s dark, windy and raining now. All I can think about is Milly, in an unfamiliar place, wondering where she is and where we are. She doesn’t like being left on her own. And nice as the staff there are, she won’t have them around all the time. She will be sad and lonely and will feel abandoned all over again. I can’t bear it.

I failed her.

I know it was the right thing to do. But this is another one of those situations where the right thing to do, feels completely like the wrong thing to do. It hurts, like a thousand dog bites. It hurts.

Reality bites. And then it craps all over you.

Better to Have Loved and Lost…?

Since you’ve been gone, I’ve been thinking a lot about love.

The dictionary defines love as (amongst other things);

*A strong feeling of affection (noun)

*A great interest and pleasure in something (noun)

*Feeling deep affection or sexual love for someone (verb)

Yes. Yes. And yes.

So the question is, is it better to have had, or experienced those things, and then lost them – or to never have had them at all?

Greater minds than mine have sought to address this issue. Across time, countless books have been written on the subject of love; from the ecstasy of giving and receiving unbound affection, to the agony of having it returned, unwanted and despised.

And yet, we continue to love. We continue to offer our hearts, often, and even when we know we will be rejected.

Why?

My own view is that this is because love is, in most cases (but by no means all), involuntary. You can’t help who you fall in love with. Whether they are likely to love you back… well, that’s another story. But when your heart goes ‘BOOM!’, even the most level headed, sensible person can’t resist falling headlong into the high speed adrenaline rush of the love train.

If you’re lucky, your affection is reciprocated. But then, the chances are, it’s only a matter of time before one half of the love heart in the sand starts to fade. And eventually the tide comes in and washes it completely away. What happens then is gut wrenching despair as the unwanted party tries to come to terms with losing their love.

And this, I guess, is where the jury is still out on my original question. Is it better to have loved and lost – or never to have loved at all? Perhaps the answer is different, person to person, situation to situation… and whether it is asked at the very beginning, when the heart is so freshly wounded that pain is tainting everything with regret, or later on, when fond memories can be revisited and even enjoyed. Maybe it depends on how strong and deep and real your love was in the first place.

For myself, I would rather have loved and never lost. I suppose that’s a no-brainer. But also, my love is not, and never will be, lost. As Shakespeare so beautifully wrote in Sonnet 116, ‘…love is not love which alters when it alteration finds, or bends with the remover to remove…’. My love is strong and will always remain. My love may have to remain locked secretly inside my heart, and never manifested in the outpouring of affection that it so ardently desires to show. But it does not mean that it is gone.

I will never regret my love.

Stay gold.

Somewhere Over the Rainbow

Since you’ve been gone, sometimes I don’t know what to do with myself.

Old habits die hard. (No – this is not another sequel to that famous Bruce Willis franchise. Although, I CAN actually picture myself in a torn vest, crawling through an air conditioning system in an attempt to subvert my own inadequacies… but already I am digressing….). I’ll start again. Old habits die hard. Especially when you don’t want them to die at all. Especially when you actually loved them, thank you very much. Especially when they brought more joy to your day than a Friday feeling, a huge bar of chocolate and an England rugby win combined.

It’s hard for my head to convince my heart that everything’s going be OK, or even, for that matter, the other way around. In fact, no one’s convincing anyone of anything. It’s like trying to catch the breeze in your hand, or finding the end of the rainbow (which, incidentally, I heard the other day was actually impossible, because rainbows are actually circular, but we only ever see the ‘top arch’ of them. I know. It blows your mind, doesn’t it). I can’t do it.

So I try to put my mind (such as it is) to other things. And for a little while, it kind of works. I keep busy. I get jobs done. I interact with my immediate world. But there’s like an invisible string – or more accurately, piece of elastic – that keeps bringing me back to the same place. And the familiar ache of loss and longing washes over me once more.

They say that nostalgia’s not what it used to be, but I don’t know about that, because it’s alive and kicking down here in Loserville.

Ah well. I guess the only thing to do is to keep moving. The end of the rainbow might not exist, but it must still be possible to get ‘over’ the rainbow, and I should never give up hope of cutting the invisible ties, and finding my way forward.

Stay gold.